The apparent winner of a register of deeds seat in North Carolina says he'll sign same-sex marriage licenses despite a state ban against gay unions.
Former Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton narrowly won a Democratic primary Tuesday for the Orange County register of deeds and it appears that he will have no opposition in the general election in November.
Chilton said he doesn't see how North Carolina's law banning gay marriage will survive constitutional analysis, especially since federal courts have ruled against similar bans in other states.
"The upshot of all those is that if a state statute or a state constitutional provision or even a federal statute is written and has no purpose other than to put down, to denigrate politically unpopular groups, such as gays and lesbians, then it is unconstitutional," Chilton said, adding that the oath of office he'll have to take says he must abide by the U.S. Constitution in spite of state law.
"So that's what I'm going to do," he said.
Chilton is not alone in his stance.
Last October, the register of deeds for Buncombe County in western North Carolina, Drew Reisinger, became one of the first officials in the South to accept marriage-license applications from same-sex couples. At the time, he said he believed the state ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. State officials have said his office can't issue the licenses.
Attorney General Roy Cooper is responsible for upholding the state's laws. He declined to comment Wednesday on Chilton's pledge. In the past Cooper has said he will uphold the gay marriage ban, even though he personally supports gay marriage.
Chilton said if a court were to order him to stop issuing gay-marriage licenses, he would.
"At this point, no court has ever ruled one way or another ... and until they do, those of us in North Carolina government are forced to simply apply the decisions that have been made thus far," he said. "I think those who are defying what I'm saying are sticking their fingers in their ears and refusing to listen."
But supporters of the state law banning gay marriage say Chilton is wrong.
"You don't change the law by breaking the law," said Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of NC Values Coalition, a private organization that led groups which backed passage of the law. "It's not up to him to be judge and jury about the law. It's up to him to carry out the law."